Sky Plots: A Chaos of Ritual

the ransom corp.
NYC & European Tour, 1999-2001
Presented by: La Mama ETC

SUMMARY: Co-Creater, Creative Director, Producer, Tour Director & Performer 

Sky Plots: A Chaos of Ritual
Presented by La Mama ETC

Smack Melon Studio in Brooklyn, November 13, 1999 (original title Hyperbolic)
La Mama ETC Annex Theater in NYC December 17-19, 1999
Physical Arts Center, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, October 5-7, 2000.

Six City European Tour, Fall 2000:
Kabelwerk in Vienna, Austria, Casa De Schock in Neuchatel, Switzerland, Die Klubbaus in Saafeld, Germany,
The Hirsh in Nueremberg Germany, N.S. Stubnitz in Rostock, Germany, The Spannwerk in Berlin, Germany


“Sky Plots: Chaos of Rituals” became one of the ransom corp.’s defining performances as it evolved over a series of unique stagings in NYC then a 13 venue tour in Europe. Born in the dynamic overlapping world of the city, Sky Plots celebrated, explored and cultivated an awareness of how our lives, raised to the vocabulary of dreams and rituals, intimately and impersonally tangle and unfold. Through SKY PLOTS emerged a theater of simultaneity, a multimedia, immersive magical realism, and a heightened sense of choice as audience members and performers meet again and again at thresholds– some architected by our ensemble, some spontaneously arising on any given night.

From chaos, patterns emerge and stories converge. From performances arise rituals. Eventually, all the rituals converge into a single moment– an unexpected celebration. 

Simultaneity & Saturation. In SKY PLOTS, a name take from a passage in Andre Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto, everything happens at once. We abandoned a set stage in favor of using the totality of the warehouses and theaters where we performed, including the exterior of the theater itself.  In environments densely saturated with individual performance–like a city densely populated–we devised and improvised plotlines made of coincidences from the overlapping of these performances. Performers, each telling their own story (see cast and characters below), on bungees, trapezes, cargo nets, ladders, pulleys, and clotheslines, within sanctuaries, television stages and roaming in the crowd emerge, converge and diverge. Chance encounters between unknown elements create layers of surreal interactions, momentum and suspense. 

A universal atmosphere. A quadraphonic sound system delivers an audio score composed of environmental sounds which unite the performers, providing a spatial sensibility, accented moments of transition and a sense of place and time progression. The audio flowed from highways to deserts, from night to day, sun to rain and a chorus of frogs. It acted as the glue and the universal atmosphere. 

Threshold & Ritual. A poem written on the ground outside the theater– “inside the outside” – led people to the theater. The “outside” is the world of the mythic, of imagination and radiance. Inside the outside is invitation to inhabit this place leaving the “other” world for a while.

Rather than enter the theater as expected, the audience masses together at the entryway until the Master of Ceremonies (agent mT) emerges to lead everyone back outside into whatever courtyards and alleyways are available. At these borderlands of the place they’ve come from and the inner world they are destined for, Agent mT, a whigged and zoot suited gameshow trickster, along with three members of the cast– Death, Jesus and the Norman Man–  engage the audience in a series of high energy contests– a race, a tug of war, a water gun firing line. Outer challenges complete, the Four guide all to the main doors, pressing their inked fingerprints into a giant paper mosaic as they enter the quiet constellation of inner stories slowly coming to life.

Choose your own adventure. The audience, freed of chairs or orientation beyond where they enter, began as if bystanders on the streets, bearing witness to the world before them. As the action unfolded, they lived and roamed with the performers. From inside the performance, they brought it new life, able to effect the progression of the piece at any one time. Based on their own vantage point, their choice of attention and navigation and the dynamics of each unique night, each person would experience as well as create a different story than another. From chaos, patterns emerge and stories converge. From performances arise rituals. 

Celebration. Eventually, all the rituals converge into a single moment– an unexpected celebration. As rose petals flutter down from the rafters and all individual rituals resolve, a cake lit with candles emerges. The cast joins together and begins to sing “Happy Birthday” to the whigged Master of Ceremonies who has reappeared in a state of delight. Many in the audience join in singing this infectious song as they begin to realize they’ve reached the conclusion of collective dream. 



Zemi 17– (The space time contraption) provided a traveling audio atmosphere for the entire show. The composition evolved from a faint remote barren land near a highway to sounds of the moving city street, to a surmounting, imploding, almost violent repetition of industrial transportation and teh ever-quaking sound of a heart that turns into a dissonant blaring techno symphony. The environment explodes to silence in the middle of the happening, suggesting a coma-like trauma, shutting down interaction with the conscious world. Slowly discreet chirps of birds break the silence, as if th show had been levitated out of its own body. the sounds of the surrounding insects, birds and animals build into a symphony, as life regains it’s complexity, until a storm rolls over the planet and harsh rain sends the sounds to shelter. When the rain has washed sound away, only a frog’s croak is left, fading in the distance.

Kaesha Kathi– played a mythological flying ballerina on a bungi cord in an apple tree, between a narrative of video projections, She is cast out of the Garden of Eden, descending earthbound when death steals her innocence. 

agent mT GK duBois– played two roles, Master of Ceremonies and a shadow of time. As Master of Ceremonies, dressed in a three piece zoot suit with Andy Warhol style white wig and smeared lipstick, he welcomes the audience to the inside of the theater after leading them through a series of test outside the theater. As a shadow, in black pants, topless with a black ski mask, he dances as a clock on the ground then roams the space mimicking other performers eventually climbing a rope and throwing rose petals over everyone. He resumes his first role at the very end to receive his birthday cake and song.

Sean Clute–played a jesus type character, practicing to learn how to walk on water, guiding people into a small geodesic dome sanctuary rigged to a heart monitor to offer relief from the chaos of the environment outside.

Sean Clute & agent MT– A Blues Interlude, Jesus on guitar and agent on vocals singing a mournful blues of heartbroken lost love. This piece arose spontaneously on tour and continued. 

Despina Stamos & Fumiko– performed a 4-part surrealist dance piece in the form of a game called “Spin, Shoot, Fall, Decompose.” Their set had the feeling of being on a Television stage, with several members from the studio audience participating in each level of the game. Additional performer: Wen-shuan Yang 

Erin Kelly & Kendra Floyd– improvisation dance influenced by butoh. They externalized a series of developmental internal states through role playing, antagonizing each other, the audience and themselves progressing towards physical exhaustion.

Tim Schettino– played a roaming, dancing, whirling dark angel who introduces death or the specter of death within other performances and Sky Plots as a whole.

Evelyna Dann– played a cocooned spider hung above a large cargo net that emerges to entice the world below into her net. Additional NYC Performers– originally developed with Keren Shani (web woman) and John Sully (web keeper).

Stefano Zazzera– plays metal percussion and uses a pulley system connection to the spider web to fly over the audience. 

Mara Smaldone–played a creature born beneath a pile of leaves, slowly emerging into a frenzy of life within the leaves, before she departs from her pile to explore the world with a bag of leaves on her back.

David Alexander Siegel– played the role of the “normal guy” who awoke with the start of the piece, brushing his teeth, going about his day, getting changed into a suit, and driving to the office. He later encounters a computer crash and meanders confused throughout his day for the rest of the performance. 

Noted additional performers in NYC shows: Loud Josh performed “OX” a one-word poem, Heavily muscles and dressed only in a loin cloth, Loud carried a ladder from place to place that he places down, opens, climbs, tones the word then descends and carries on. Victor Attar (Krapp’s Last Tape), Victoria Hanna (Singing Bride), Kirk Peterkin (Bungeed Flier), Kogomo Dsi (Drum and Gongs), Chris Doorley (Secret Agent), Loki Kevorkian (God of Mischief), Nayouli.

Sky Plots: Origins, Evolutions & Performance History including Tour

The intention of Sky Plots was to expose, express and heighten awareness of the chaotic nature of life and reveal how this chaos breeds new life in stories and experience. 

Origins. Sky Plots started as an experiment in simultaneity– a performance embedded in a larger celebratory event called “Hyperbolic.” Ten diverse artists were asked to create individual pieces to be performed at the same time in the same place amid a large festive audience. The pieces shared themes dealing with time, the changing of seasons, transformation and life cycles.  

Smack Melon Studio, November 13, 1999: “Hyperbolic”

Inside a cavernous old spice factory, it’s rafters still dusted with cinnamon and star anise, 20 artists established their individual performance areas with little knowledge of each others work.  After rehearsing on their own, the group met a half hour before show time to establish a few parameters for coexistence with cues for staring and completing whatever unfolded.  Zemi17 declared he would be the clock, or better described as “the time contraption,” ringing a gong every time he thought 5 minutes of action had taken place. agent mT would climb a long rope in the middle of the space where a microphone awaited. When he read the “inside the outside” poem while dropping rose petals on the crowd, this would signify “The end.” There were approximately 500 people in attendance for the performance which opened a festive event that went deep into the next morning. What conspired that night could be best described as follows: A cloud of joyfully confusion. Afterwards, we gathered backstage, all with different highlights from the experience, occasionally laughing like children, unsure if we were in trouble for our daring exploits or if we’d be rewarded. Many audience members seemed to have appreciated and understood what we had done more than we had. We left the studio that night with a strange sense of accomplishment, but without a plan to perform the same concept piece again.

Then Ellen Steward from La Mama Etc Called. 

Evolutions.  As we staged “Sky Plots” in unique venues, we continually discovered new meanings to our actions and the vibrancy of sudden, randomly overlapping performances. At first the work embraced the magic and confusion of the overlapping pieces. Performers then began to repeat and loosely structure their actions, binding their stories together, bringing their movements closer, exploring the choreography of coincidences, where moments intersect and where they fall apart. We focused less on creating an absolute ending and more on the circular process of becoming, on creating a performance piece that functioned as its own organic creature– how do apparently unrelated actions effect the greater whole, as with the Butterfly Effect in modern chaos theory? Can we cultivate a curiosity and engage more fully with an awareness of how we tangle and unfold the connections between all of us?

Performance History

La Mama Theater ETC, Dec 17, 18, 19, 1999: “Sky Plots: A chaos of rituals”

Three weeks after hyperbolic we received a phone call from Ellen Steward, the founder of La Mama, ETC, a prestigious downtown experimental theater. She invited us to perform “Sky Plots” in their largest space, the annex, two weeks before the millennium. Several members of the Ransom Corp have performed in La Mama productions and premiered their own productions at La Mama. During our 3-night ruin, “Sky Plots” transformed from a one-time experiment into a performance that had a future. Approximately 500 people attended the 3 nights. 

Sky Plots: Euro Tour

Through a variety of extended friends and personal contacts, the skeleton for a fall European tour started to emerg. The tour was made financially possible through fundraisers and small private contributions, and we were able to fly 13 nyc performance artists to Europe in the first week of October 2000. 

Physical Arts Center, Williamsburg, Brooklyn October 5 – 7, 2000

Ending 2 weeks of intensive development before departing New York, we organized 2 dress rehearsals for the public and a fundraiser and supportive send off  for the traveling crew. We performed Sky Plots as a “work in progress.” The space was not exactly suited for a full scale show but we had the opportunity to get inside what we were going to do the next five weeks.

Kablewerk, Vienna, Austria, October 12, 13, 14, 15, 2000

Kablewerk is a former cable factory and the space we performed in was very raw and dirty with unstable electricity. It was 100 meters long and 30 meters wide with a 25 meter ceiling. We wisely choose to use just half the space an deranged for a massive 30 kilowatt sound system to be temporarily installed. The viennese audience wandered in the immensity of the space amid the performers, attuning deeply to the unexpected intersections. 

Casa de Schock Neuchatel, Switzerland, October 18, 19, 2000
We performed in a smaller concert space for two nights. Case de Schock is a ormer beer factory that houses a variety of theaters and hosts artists in residency and traveling performances of music and theater. 

Die Klubhaus Saafeld Germany October 21, 2000

We performed in a community youth center that was also used as a club on the weekends. Saafeld is a small town in the former GDR that the bus driver we have hired lived in. WE had a very young, inquisitive and underexposed audience. We felt as if the experience of the show was almost traumatic for some and hopefully a sublime glimpse into an alternate reality for others. 

Hirsh, Nuremberg Germany October 26, 2000

We performed in a club/concert hall that usually features DJH parties or alternative bands. By this time we were beginning to feel comfortable with the show and versatile in all situations. We had two show in one night– 9pm and midnight– and welcomed a very receptive crowd of young people, art enthusiasts and curious adventure seekers. 

MS Stubnitz, Rostock, Germany, October 28, 2000

We performed on 2 levels of the interior of a large fishing boat taken over by artists. Rothstock is a small former GDR city and the boat is one of the only outlets for youth culture, electronic music and, occasionally, very experimental, surreal happenings. After the performance, we decided that the show was a bit much for a young midnight club crowd, but eh feedback form the artist running the boat was incredibly positive. In doing the show, we made a stone connection to the residents of the boat and plan on returning at the first possible opportunity.

Umspannwerk Kreuzberg Berlin Germany, Nove 2, 3, 4, 2000

After facing many challenges adapting to the spaces on the tour, we arrived at the seemingly ideal space in which to perform. The Umspannwerk was a clean, open, former electricity factory with 15 meter ceilings, 50m x 25m. We were able to both feel close to each other and have enough space to fully realize the enormity of the piece. The shows were well attended and proceeded exceptionally well. We forged a strong bond with the curators of the space and have made plans to return to the Umspannwerk for an extended stay in the spring of 2002, and to co-organize a month long festival.

“I woke up, listening to the highway,
Was that life a reminder to do something?

A clock breaks on the inside
and you start your way down
who am I now?
a wilderness, a ghost
a whirling dance, an urge
every motivation is a question
every voice is an echo

I arrive here, a place that moves with me
I don’t know its name

Inside the outside
there are rose petals
follow the scent
tell the stories

–agent mT

(excerpts from a poem
whispered into a microphone from
the ceiling of the Umspannwerk in Berlin)